After finishing last season only one win away from winning the Conference USA title, The University of Southern Mississippi baseball team has the potential to achieve major success this season. With new additions to an already immensely talented team, Pete Taylor Park is sure to be rocking with powerful home runs, remarkable pitching and energetic Southern Miss fans.
USM finished last season 30-27 and 15-9 in conference play which many would agree it was a successful season. In regard to the team, they felt they were successful, but there is always room for improvement and growth. As the season draws near, the team is preparing for what should not only be a phenomenal season, but one that builds from last year’s successes and failures to accomplish greater goals.
The relationship between players on a team is very important to obtaining success on the field. The team prides itself on playing and growing as a team on and off the field. Last season, the players had great chemistry.
“This team has amazing chemistry and we are as confident than ever before,” said David Walley, a junior catcher from Richton, Miss. “We look forward to achieve big things and surprise a lot of people this year.”
In 2012, there were spurts of impressive offensive outbursts and dominant pitching. But, there were several times the team lacked the tenacity of continuing its success through nine innings. This was a major issue in the team’s ability to not only win games, but also win consecutive games within the season. Consistency should be an advantage for the Golden Eagles throughout the tough stretch in the season.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Southern Miss has always been regarded as a high-caliber program and the players feel they can play against any team in the country. The Golden Eagles are used to facing tough opponents each year throughout the regular season.
Not to mention, many of the opponents are champions from their respective conferences and have reached the NCAA tournament beyond the regional round. The strength of the schedule doesn’t intimidate the Golden Eagles, but motivates them to rise to the top in beating high-ranking opponents.
“We beat Ole Miss twice last year and played LSU, MSU and other top-ranked opponents,” said Mason Robbins, a junior outfielder and pitcher from Leakesville, Miss. “Our pitching is good enough to shutdown any higher- ranked opponent and our offense is capable of scoring enough runs to win games.”
Southern Miss will face another tough schedule this year, playing 11 teams that reached the NCAA tournament in 2012.
MAKING IT TO REGIONALS IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Losing 5-4 in a nail biter against Rice University in the conference tournament championship game was a hard pill to swallow for the team. Not being able to win a conference championship and earn a regional spot in the NCAA Baseball Tournament was truly disappointing. It’s the goal in the forefront of every player’s mind when the season begins.
“Earning a spot in regional play is our number one goal,” Walley said. “That is something our program prides itself on.”
Prior to the beginning of last season, the team was coming off a tremendous year, making it to the College World Series. There was a certain level of expectation put on last year’s team after getting to the College World Series.
Last year’s heartbreaking loss will serve as motivation as the team looks to focus on winning a conference championship, and making it to the regionals of the NCAA Baseball Tournament.
THE IMPACT OF PLAYING AT HOME
“It means so much to warm up on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon and see the stands packed in black and gold at Pete Taylor Park,” Walley said. “Having fans attend the games in support of the team makes the playing environment more intense and difficult for opponents.”
“A Pete Taylor Park filled with school spirit from fans and students makes the opportunity for playing at home worth while,” said Jake Winston, a sophomore pitcher and infielder from Vidalia, La.
This season, the Golden Eagles’ schedule features 29 regular season home games and the hosting of the C-USA Baseball Tournament in May. In 2012, the Golden Eagles went 19-12 at Pete Taylor Park.
NEW ADDITIONS TO THE TEAM
The Golden Eagle baseball team have added several key additions who will have a major impact on the team throughout the season. These include junior catcher Matt Durst, freshman catcher Chuckie Robinson, junior infielder Michael Gilbert and freshman infielder and outfielder Dylan Burdeaux.
These players, as well as other new players on the team, will be called upon to play early, and will have the opportunity to help the team reach its ultimate goal.
HOSTING THE CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP
“There would be nothing like dog piling at Pete Taylor Park in May with a conference championship in front of the best fans in the nation,” Walley said. “We want nothing more [than] to bring that home to them.” Southern Miss hosted the conference tournament in 2009.
“It is definitely an added incentive to our season,” Winston said. “Having the opportunity to compete in front of our home crowd for a championship would certainly be remarkable after being so close to winning one year ago.”
The 2014 Conference Championship will take place May 21-25, 2014 and will feature the top eight finishers in regular-season league play. The championship will also be the return of the double-elimination format the conference used from 1996-2009.
THOUGHTS ON THE UPCOMING YEAR
“As a team, we have the dedication and motivation to be successful in the upcoming season,” Robbins said. “If we do these two things: remain consistent and continue to build our team chemistry, we will the have opportunity to achieve many goals in the upcoming season.”